An early taste of things to come for Tasmania under the anthropogenic climate change that the failure of right wing ideology is allowing to occur: increasingly widespread loss of organic soils on slopes in Davey Gorge area, southwest Tasmania, from changing bushfire frequencies and intensities (this area was most recently burnt in January 2013, at the same time that Dunalley burnt). For more information about this impact of climate change, see: http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/CART-8PB2HU?open, Photo by Chris Sharples, January 2014.
Given the right-wing media’s recent and ongoing success at “providing” (bombarding) the Australian electorate with “information” (propaganda) appropriately “presented” (spun) to ensure a shift in voting behaviour towards to the far right of politics, it seems timely to review some key elements of this political ideology that Australians as a whole were coached to vote for in 2013 – and which Tasmanians are now being coached to vote for at the state level in 2014. This is a far right ideology under which the only important measure of societal progress and indeed righteousness is growth, growth and more unending growth, regardless of the ultimately self-defeating and cancerous nature of that growth when it is primarily based on accelerating extraction of fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gases.
Ahem, please excuse my little show of frustration with the currently abysmal state of the mainstream Australian political “conversation” (insert rude words here); I will now attempt to use more measured language to explain why the outsourcing of Australia’s future to the far right wing of politics does not seem like a very good idea to me.
Far left-wing ideologies1 were widely perceived to have failed prominently in the late 1980s with the collapse of multiple communist systems, particularly the USSR. Too much regulated equality and too little freedom to create incentives and innovate had bred cumbersome inflexible economies with too little adaptive capacity, until these systems simply imploded under the weight of their own internal contradictions. In the wake of these momentous historical events, Francis Fukuyama2 triumphantly (but rather rashly) proclaimed that with the fall of communism the great game of history had been played out, left-wing ideology had failed, and liberal democracy with its under-pinning right-wing ideology had settled into its rightful place as the logical endpoint of the historical struggle to find the best way to order human societies.
Although many right-wing ideologues thus remain firmly convinced of the righteous perfection of far right ideology, in the last decade or so a factor which Fukuyama did not recognise as critical– namely the simple physical sustainability of human civilisation within the context of the natural systems upon which it depends utterly – has risen into the global consciousness as the over-arching problem that previous political ideologies have failed to take seriously or properly account for. Just as the limitations of far left wing ideology led to its failure to provide a fully sufficient basis upon which to order societies, so too it has become increasingly apparent that right-wing ideology also has its limitations, and that these make it an inadequate basis for dealing with what is clearly the paramount challenge of our time.
The failure of far right-wing ideology has been its inability to prevent economic freedom from becoming an irresponsible greed for unsustainable levels of natural resource consumption that undermine the larger natural systems upon which economic systems actually depend, yet which it treats as mere ‘externalities’. Specifically, the global anthropogenic climate change crisis3 that we now face is the direct result of too much unconstrained consumption of natural resources and too little regulation of the impacts of that consumption on land, atmosphere and ocean; and on the ecosystems dependent on these. However this flies directly in the face of the right-wing notion that unrestrained market freedom represents the ideal way to order society.
Of course, societies ordered along left-wing ideological principles were equally profligate in their consumption of natural resources and pollution of the natural environment, and for the most part neither right- nor left-wing ideologies have considered the natural environment as anything other than an endless‘external’ resource to be exploited for human benefit. However it is arguable that whereas in the case of left wing ideology the over-exploitation of natural resources comes about as a side-effect of a desire to improve the collective conditions of society, in the case of right wing ideology the idea that nature can be endlessly exploited without detriment is built into the very structure of the ideology as an underlying assumption. That is, whereas far left-wing ideology merely allows over-exploitation of natural resources to occur, far right-wing ideology actually requires that limitless freedom to exploit be possible and desirable.
The defining feature of what is loosely termed “right wing” ideology is that it sees human freedom as the most important requirement for a good society4. The right wing notion of freedom is generally supposed to include a variety of intellectual, cultural, religious and social freedoms, although in actual practice it seems rather narrowly focussed on economic freedom and most particularly on the greatest possible freedom from government regulation of economic activities5.
Of course, advocating freedom sounds as uncontroversial as motherhood, but it’s not quite that simple. With freedom must come responsibility; in particular the responsibility to also respect the freedoms and rights of others, and to be held responsible if one’s free actions impact detrimentally on the interests of others. However human self-interest powerfully shapes our perception of our responsibilities, and so it is no surprise that those who stand to gain significantly from exercising a certain economic freedom without constraint (such as profiting from the exploitation of fossil fuel resources) will wish to argue (and will truly believe) that their actions are not detrimental to the interests of others and thus do not need responsible constraints (such as regulation), regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
It is therefore not surprising that a significant majority of climate change deniers tend to be of right-wing political persuasions and that organised denial tends to be commonly associated with big business, most notably the fossil fuel industries that profit most from their freedom to pursue the economic activities causing anthropogenic climate change6.There is a powerful desire amongst those who benefit from fossil fuel use to deny that these sorts of economic activity are causing a huge problem, and in particular to deny that any link between fossil fuel use and global warming has actually been demonstrated. As Oreskes & Conway7 and many others have documented, minority scientific views sceptical of anthropogenic climate change have been persistently funded by big business and the right wing of politics to make them appear as credible critiques of the much wider scientific consensus. It is virtually predictable that if you are a Republican or Tea Party follower in the USA, or quite likely that if you are a Liberal Party voter in Australia, then you will deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Right wing newspapers and journals such as ‘The Australian’, ‘Quadrant’ or ‘The Spectator’ have a consistent policy of either denying climate change is real, or that it is caused by human activities, or – in the most devious cases such as ‘The Australian’–occasionally and selectively purporting to nominally accept the science but misrepresenting it and branding efforts to explain the seriousness of its implications as unwarranted alarmism.
However climate change is reality, and reality has an annoying habit of not going away no matter how hard one tries to ignore it. The link between human activities and climate change is well established, with numerous studies demonstrating that the observed changes during the last century cannot be explained by natural variability alone, but are readily explained if human activities are taken into account8. The combined thermal content of the ocean and atmosphere continues to rise despite some variability in the rate of that rise; globally-averaged sea-level rise driven by increased warming continues unabated, and the area and thickness of summer arctic sea ice continues to decrease9. Closest to home, 2013 has broken numerous weather records to become Australia’s hottest year since records began in 1910 10, a brute fact which flies in the face of persistent attempts by deniers to claim that global warming “stopped” 17 years ago11. And whilst it is often problematical to identify specific causes of any given extreme weather event, there is no doubt that the increasing thermal energy content of the ocean and atmosphere must lead to increasing intensities of more energetic (extreme) weather events including droughts and floods, heatwaves and snowstorms, tornados and cyclones, such as are already being seen.
As the physical reality of climate change becomes more and more obvious, the pressure on right-wing ideology is becoming stronger and its underlying worldview is more threatened. Since any rational arguments that right-wing climate change deniers once had have long since become untenable, their desire not to acknowledge the problem that climate change poses for their ideology appears to be driving them to ever louder, shriller and more obsessive denial. As the pressure of reality mounts, their cognitive dissonance – the disconnect between what they want to believe and what reality is clearly telling them – seems to be pushing some deniers into a quite irrational mindset. Some resort to bizarre rationalisations such as accusing the global climate science community of a deliberate concerted hoax, whose scale and nature would be quite unprecedented and mind-boggling if there was actually any truth to this quite barmy accusation. A few particularly obsessive and obnoxious deniers organise deliberate harassment of climate scientists whom they fantasise to be deliberately trying to fool people as part of this non-existent conspiracy12. Many loudly demand that society should continue to accelerate even more the consumption of fossil fuels and production of greenhouse gases, presumably in the hope that this will prove they are right and environmental concerns wrong. As Jared Diamond has pointed out13, analogous irrational and self-defeating behaviour has been a hallmark of the collapse of multiple human societies in the past.
In this light, the response of the current right-wing Abbott federal government to climate change – that of deliberately shutting down initiatives of the previous government that actually begin to do something about mitigating climate change, and replacing them with a ‘Direct Action’ policy that looks deliberately designed to be ineffective – is a particularly ‘bloody-minded’ effort to deny the reality and seriousness of the problem.
I argue below that the fact of anthropogenic climate change is direct evidence that right wing ideologies have important limitations which have been tested against reality and have failed the test; just as far left-wing ideologies failed the test of reality during the 1980s. Thus right wing ideologues must deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change; not because they are necessarily ignorant of the science, but rather because they understand that if they accept it then they must admit that key elements of their ideology have failed in important ways. This in turn would mean that they would have to accept a need for constraints on their freedom to continue profiting from those economic activities that are causing the problem. Indeed, given the degree to which the Earth’s climate has already changed in response to fossil fuel emissions and the amount of ongoing climatic change that is already ‘locked in’, it is equally obvious that mitigating and reining in the existing and ongoing damage already caused by fossil fuels can only succeed if there is a high level of international government co-operation, intervention, and regulation – the very thing that purist far right wing ideologues don’t want.
However right wing ideology goes further than just providing a self-interested motivation to deny anthropogenic climate change; it also includes and relies upon a belief that a properly functioning free market would never in any case allow economic activities to become detrimental to the interests of a majority of people in the first place. This is the belief that in a market properly free of regulation and government intervention, market forces commonly referred to as the “invisible hand of the market” will self-regulate to correct any excesses or imbalances that may arise so that such a system will be balanced, equitable and sustainable in the long term14. An implication of anthropogenic climate change is that this element of right wing ideology has simply failed to protect the best interests of humanity at the global scale because it has failed to prevent an unsustainable degradation of environmental goods and services upon which we depend, in particular the capacity of the natural environment to absorb anthropogenic pollution without long-term harm to the global ecosystem.
In essence, the argument that the “invisible hand of the market” will self-regulate a properly free economic market so as to avert any imbalances and problems associated with resource consumption and its waste products goes like this: any problems that arise such as exhaustion of particular resources or detrimental impacts resulting from over-exploitation of any particular capacity of the system, will result in market signals such as increasing costs (to obtain increasingly scarce resources, or to cope with detrimental impacts of resource use such as pollution). As these costs rise,they will drive a search for and substitution with alternative resources that are more cheaply available or the technological development of new techniques that reduce the costly impacts. The implementation of these solutions will return the system to its optimally efficient state.
This principle of the self-correcting nature of free markets has arguably worked to varying degrees at everyday practical levels of market interactions between free agents without undue market bias imposed by finance or advertising, and at moderate scales where other externalities have not been constraining factors. However the assumption that it will also work just as efficiently on the much greater scale of regulating the impacts of global markets on “externalities” as large and complex as the global climate system is deeply flawed in two ways.
The first flaw is that right wing ideologies take it as an underlying assumption that unlimited growth in consumption of natural resources (upon which all economies rely) is both possible and desirable. This includes not only increasing extraction of resources such as minerals, fuel, wood and water for human use, but also increasing use of the Earths capacity to absorb or cope with the impacts of unlimited consumption, such as increasing pollution and increasing transformation of diverse natural ecosystems into simplified artificial ecosystems. The idea that there are no physical limits to growth in consumption is central to right wing ideals of economic freedom, since it is obvious that if there are such limits then it will be necessary to regulate markets in order to prevent them from exceeding the limits.
However the problem is that the Earth’s physical system is actually and obviously finite; and as a consequence it does not have an infinite capacity to supply new resources nor to be endlessly tweaked back into equilibrium by new technologies so as to permit infinitely continued growth in consumption. The methods that can be used to do this, such as substitutions and new technologies, are subject to the Law of Diminishing Returns – they work up to a point, but they do not have infinite capacity to solve all problems indefinitely. Beyond a certain point, alternative strategies become less efficient and the Earth’s inherent physical limits to growth become more constraining.
For example, the idea of geo-engineering is a logical response of a free market ideology to anthropogenic climate change. This is the notion that the dangerous changes to the climate caused by over-consumption can be corrected by directly manipulating the climate itself through a variety of proposed technological means when the costs arising from the detrimental impacts become so large that such a large-scale response becomes economically justified. Indeed, as Clive Hamilton15 has noted, the possibility of a geo-engineering response to climate change has ironically allowed some right wing thinkers to acknowledge the reality of global warming because it appears to represent a response that is in line with their belief that the market will ultimately correct even a problem as large as this16. However the idea of geo-engineering the whole Earth’s climate is an incredibly risky proposition for which our level of scientific knowledge is simply unprepared, and which has the potential to trigger even worse feedbacks in natural systems, undoubtedly including some we can’t even predict yet. Moreover, as a solution to anthropogenic climate change it is also a classic example of how the law of diminishing returns must ultimately thwart any solutions to the problems caused by overconsumption that do not include actually reducing the dangerous consumption that is causing the problem in the first place. Geo-engineering without simultaneous reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will not solve the causes of anthropogenic climate change, but rather it would provide an excuse for the market to ignore them and continue burning fossil fuels and continuing with other activities that are the root of the problem. The result would be that the continued growth in emissions of greenhouse gases would continue to increasingly drive the processes causing climatic warming; resulting in a need for even larger scales of geo-engineering, until eventually the ongoing acceleration of the greenhouse effect that drives anthropogenic climate change would outstrip our capacity to mitigate it through geo-engineering. We would need more and more geo-engineering – the largest scale of deliberate planetary environmental manipulation ever contemplated – to keep pace with the growth in the underlying drivers of anthropogenic climate change, until eventually the accelerating pace of such a crazy race would become impossible to maintain.
The very fact of global anthropogenic climate change is clearly telling us that there are indeed limits to exploitation of resources, beyond which natural systems respond through feedback processes by changing in ways that will make continuing growth in resource consumption more difficult and ultimately impossible. We are already seeing a disturbing frequency of large droughts and floods in many parts of the world, and the most critical impacts of these are arguably the reduction in food production that they cause. As the Earth’s hydrological cycle becomes more energetic due to the increasing thermal content of atmosphere, land and ocean, we can expect increasingly intense droughts and floods17 which together with shifting overall weather patterns and consequent events such as more frequent bushfires will lead increasingly to lost food production, and famine, which in turn can only lead to social disruption and war. There is now evidence that severe droughts in the east African region – which are an important underlying cause of the seemingly endless chaos of crop failure, famine and thus war in areas such as Somalia and Sudan - are at least in part a result of anthropogenic climate change18. At the same time, as increasing thermal energy in the climate system drives more intense extreme weather events such as cyclones, tornados, storm surges, and consequent events such as floods and wind storms, damage to infrastructure such as housing and roads that was designed for a milder Twentieth Century climate will become more frequent, and the costs of replacing it will increase until it simply becomes impractical to keep replacing infrastructure in exposed locations that we used to consider safe. If we fail to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and we allow anthropogenic climate change to accelerate unabated, the combined impacts of all these climate-driven pressures can only be to reduce and eventually to halt and reverse the growth of our population and our over-extended resource consumption patterns. In essence, changing and more energetic weather driven by continued climate change will feed back to limit our capacity for continued growth of food production, population, industrial output and infrastructure until it is stopped whether we like it or not. It would be so much smarter to have deliberately and purposefully limited the scale of our population and civilisation (at least on this planet19) to a sustainable level, but it seems we were not smart enough to do that and now we are just going to have to cope with a much harder future.
The second flaw in expecting the invisible hand of the market to successfully operate at a scale as big as the Earth’s whole climate system is that the notion that market signals will cause the system to adjust soon enough so as to maintain its equilibrium is also failing. The market signals that should cause a move away from strategies that result in increasing disruption of the natural climate system are simply not being registered in time to shift the economic system into less damaging modes early enough to avoid disastrous consequences. The Earth’s climate system is so large, and the lag time before damaging effects of over-exploitation become apparent is so long, that market signals such as increasingly costly damage to homes, infrastructure and food production from increasingly frequent or intense extreme weather events – and increasing insurance premiums in response to them - are only now just beginning to become apparent. However so much change is already locked into the climate system by past human activities that it is already too late to avoid further increases in severely damaging consequences. The changes we now face as a result of past over-exploitation will have major impacts on the future of our civilisation, and yet it is obvious that the market is only just starting to respond in ways that might have effectively averted or mitigated these consequences if they had started decades ago. The market system has failed to avert the consequences of unlimited consumption of natural resources in time to avoid serious long-term consequences, and we are faced with the inevitability of a brave new world which will be very different and much harder to cope with than the one that our civilisation developed under and is adapted to.
The reality of anthropogenic climate change is the evidence that the capacity of free markets to self-correct - which arguably works in some contexts and at some scales – has clearly failed in the global context of anthropogenic climate change. The global scale of the effects of our resource consumption and waste production on natural systems is simply beyond the scale of market interactions that the invisible hand was conceived as working for.
Thus, several key principles that underlie far right wing ideology can be seen to be failing because they do not adequately account for the finite scale of the Earth’s natural systems nor ensure their sustainability; yet those natural systems are the underlying foundation upon which any political, social or economic system – right, left, behind or in front – depends. So for right wing ideologues, the choice is simple: either accept that their ideology is flawed and that some degree of global market regulation is necessary; or deny anthropogenic climate change and irrationally hope it will go away so that their freedom to exploit natural resources will not be under threat. Sadly, many have selfishly chosen the latter option.
As Oreskes & Conway20 have shown with case study after case study, many right wing deniers are motivated by a fear of increasing regulation of market activities, which they see as a slippery slope to communism or something even worse. This underlies a variety of quite barmy conspiracy theories which hold that climate change is a hoax dreamed up by a cabal of wicked scientists and environmentalists to bring about a totalitarian world government. However such a fear of regulation is an extreme view which is not only contradicted by the desire of many right wing conservatives to strongly regulate moral and social behaviour outside the strictly economic sphere, but is also contradicted by most of human history which has demonstrated that secure and flourishing societies are not in practice possible without some degree of regulation and laws.
In practice, the seemingly high-minded liberal right-wing ideology of ‘freedom’ has tended altogether too often to translate into nothing more than a justification for greed, and especially the freedom to exercise greed and to deny the reality of - or any responsibility for – the larger detrimental impacts that arise from it. The insight that unrestrained greed will cause a market system to fail is not new: as the prominent economist Ross Garnaut21 has recently noted: “Scholars of politics, sociology and economics have long observed that a successful market economy requires citizens to accept restraint in the pursuit of private interest outside the sphere of the market. Capitalism doesn’t work if all of us seek to maximise our private interests in every interaction with society.” Dangerous anthropogenic climate change is the most spectacular failure of an insufficiently regulated free market that the world has ever seen.
However, it is not my intention to conclude from the above arguments that there is no value at all in right wing ideology. It’s not that simple. The history of the last thirty years has demonstrated that neither right- nor left-wing ideologies in their ‘pure’ forms are sufficient in themselves to build optimally flourishing yet ecologically sustainable societies. Yet neither are these ideologies without value; in fact both ideologies contain worthwhile insights and principles, but each fail if taken to an extreme which excludes the useful insights of the other. There is a good reason why there are earnest and principled thinkers to be found in both ideological camps, which is that both ideologies contain important insights into the conditions needed to build a worthwhile society. The ideal then is not to take either ideology to its extreme, but rather to identify and implement the useful elements of both while avoiding the more extreme end-points of either. Arguably, the notable success of social democracies such as those in the Scandinavian countries - in building what have been recognised as literally the happiest and most socio- economically secure societies on Earth22 - relies in part on their ability to do just this. Moreover, there is also a need to take into account a further insight which neither right nor left wing ideologies have historically incorporated, namely the importance of ensuring the sustainability of the global (and local) ecosystems upon which human societies – however ordered - are utterly dependent.
The invisible hand of the market place can arguably be an efficient regulator of human activities within certain limits and on a practical everyday scale. Indeed the lack of free markets was arguably a key factor underlying the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. However as recent history has shown it does not prevent dangerous imbalances that undermine natural systems at global scales. To prevent this we need the checks and balances of oversight and regulation. Too much (left-wing) over-regulation and enforced equality stifles freedom and creative initiative at the practical everyday level of human interactions; but with the unrestrained freedom demanded by far right-wing ideology, irresponsible greed and unregulated consumption pushes larger human and natural systems towards becoming dangerously depleted and unbalanced. We need both freedom and regulation, each in the right measure to check and balance the less desirable consequences of the other. And we need the regulation of freedom and consumption to be informed by an understanding that whatever we do, we cannot exceed the limits of resource consumption within which the global ecosystem itself can be sustained in ways that are conducive to human flourishing.Thus we need to practise the best insights of at least three ideologies (left, right and green), while also recognising the limits of each ideology and ensuring that none is practiced to an extreme that excludes the useful insights of the others. The real world is simply too complex for any one ideology to be a comprehensive solution to all problems; we need to think more broadly and inclusively than that.
The experience of history shows that, as societies become larger and more complex, they require higher-level governance and regulation to keep in check the imbalances that otherwise arise from individuals or groups seeking greater advantage for themselves. Such rules began at family, clan and tribal levels, and have needed to become broader and more encompassing as the scale of effectively integrated societies have grown from local to national levels. Most right wing ideologues seem to have implicitly accepted the need for some increasing scope of effective governance and regulation as societies have grown in scale and power, and indeed are themselves often remarkably keen to implement laws on social and moral issues outside the sphere of economic activities. So why is it that - now we have built a society that is truly global in its scale and inter-relationships, and are faced with the obvious need for better governance of human impacts on the global environment– they now balk and characterise such global governance as sinister and oppressive?
Now that the scale of integrated human social and economic activities and interactions have reached a truly global scale, it is simply irrational to oppose the need for some regulation of human activities at that global scale. Just as most would accept the need for tribal laws to allow tribal groups to function at their local scale, in the same way it is irrational to suppose that an interacting global human community can function sustainably without shared and effective global rules to govern those aspects of our behaviour which have global effects. Purist right-wing ideology that rejects appropriate regulation of economic activities can only lead to disaster, just as purist left-wing ideology did for those societies that embraced it too strongly during the Twentieth Century. The way forward is balance, not ideological extremism.
1 Note that when I refer to “far” right or left wing ideologies, I refer to those ideologies as proposed or practiced in as close to their ideologically pure form as possible, with as little as possible compromise with or contamination by opposing ideologies. Such extreme ideologies must inevitably fail since the real world is more complex than any one ideology allows for, yet the world is full of extremists who believe the world can only be saved if everybody practices their pure ideology and none other! Of course, more satisfactory ends can be achieved by combining the best elements of a range of ideologies, each focussed on different key elements of reality.
2 Francis Fukuyama 1992: “The End of History and the Last Man”; Avon Books, New York.
3 “Anthropogenic climate change” refers to global climate change caused wholly or to a significant degree by human activities, particularly excessive emissions of greenhouse gases.
4 By contrast, the defining feature of left-wing ideology is the desire to provide equal rights and opportunities, and fair conditions for all members of society. This may require some restrictions on individual freedoms (i.e., regulation by a rule of law) in order to prevent individual ambition from undermining the rights of others.
5 In stark contrast to their standard insistence on freedom of economic behaviour, and in apparent contradiction of their purported underlying values, it is rather notable that there is a repeating pattern of right ring ideologues seeking to strictly limit freedom and diversity of moral, social and political practices to a very narrow and conservative spectrum which in many cases they seek to enforce by legislation. It’s not immediately obvious why an ideology of ‘freedom’ would tend to be conservative, but perhaps it’s because in practice it tends to actually be about ‘freedom’ to practice traditional (evolutionary) behaviours such as unlimited consumption and acquisition; right wing ideologues actually don’t want to change or move on from these deeply ingrained behaviours, so their notion of ‘freedom’ becomes a very conservative one.
6 Brulle (2013) has provided a recent analysis of funding sources for climate change denial organisations in the USA which shows that such funding is overwhelmingly sourced from openly right-wing foundations. Of particular interest is the finding that some specifically fossil-fuel interests including Exxon/Mobil and the Koch Brothers ceased openly funding climate change denial organisations around 2008, but at the same time funding from ‘undisclosed’ sources increased significantly – the clear implication being that some fossil fuel industries have begun attempting to disguise their support of climate change denial. Reference: Brulle, R.J., 2013: ‘Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations’; Climatic Change (refereed journal), DOI 10.1007/s10584-013-1018-7
7 Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, 2010: “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”; Bloomsbury Press, New York.
8 IPCC, 2013: “Summary for Policymakers. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis”; Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 27th September 2013 (especially Section D.3 and Figure SPM.6).
9 IPCC, 2013: “Summary for Policymakers. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis”; Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 27th September 2013.
10 Bureau of Meteorology Annual Climate Statement 2013 (issued Friday 3rd January 2014): http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/annual/aus/2013/
11 A notable recent example (amongst many others) was a bizarre statement of denial by Maurice Newman (Business advisor to the Abbott federal Liberal government), in a column published in (unsurprisingly) ‘The Australian’ newspaper, 31st December 2013.
12 See http://www.eenews.net/stories/1059993246for a description of the nasty work of the climate change denier Marc Morano, who runs a blog ‘Climate Depot’ on which he alerts his thousands of followers to climate scientists he wishes to have harassed by deluging them with nasty emails. The prominent climate scientist Michael Mann has similarly described his harassment over a long period of time by a range of powerful deniers who did not like the implications of his work that clearly demonstrated the anomalous nature of the rise in global temperatures over the last century (Michael E. Mann, 2012: “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines”; Columbia University Press, New York).
13 Jared Diamond, 2005: “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive”; Allen Lane / Penguin Books. (Especially Chapter 14: ‘Why do some societies make disastrous decisions?’)
14 The notion of the “invisible hand of the market” was introduced by the influential classical economist Adam Smith in his 1776 work“The Wealth of Nations” (Book 1, Chapter 7). Although the term was used in a restricted sense by Smith, it has been generalised by subsequent economists such as Milton Friedman into a doctrine which suggests that free markets with unrestrained competition between buyers and sellers will self-correct without coercion or deliberate planning. Thus for example investors will put money into industries that are most needed to maximise returns, and will withdraw capital from industries that are becoming less efficient, with the end result being an efficient economy that provides maximum benefit for most participants. Of course, although purist right wing ideologues tend to believe the invisible hand cannot fail, others have pointed out that factors such as advertising and large-scale (global) financing tend to bias the market in ways that a truly “invisible” hand would not do. And I argue here that ultimate constraints on the market resulting from natural resource limitations are additional factors that must thwart the invisible hand and lead to market failure if not recognised and overtly regulated for.
15 Clive Hamilton, 2013: “Earth Masters: Playing God with the Climate”; Allen and Unwin, p. 98-99.
16 Similarly, it would seem logical to expect that right wing ideologues would accept the notion of emissions trading schemes as another market-based response to climate change that is in line with their ideology; however to do so they must first accept that anthropogenic climate change is real, and by denying this they thwart the implementation of an effective market-based emissions trading scheme (as Australia’s current Federal right wing government has done), thereby demonstrating in yet another way that the invisible hand of the market is not always effective.
17 The scientific ignorance of those deniers who think that the occurrence of both floods and droughts is somehow contradictory and thus ‘disproves’ climate change is remarkable. The two phenomena are both part of natural hydrological cycles, and as those cycles become more energetic (due to increasing thermal energy as the Earth warms), both phenomena must become increasingly intense. Put simply, a warmer atmosphere and ocean means both more evaporation and also a greater capacity of the atmosphere to hold more water vapour. As a result there are longer periods of little rainfall (droughts), but when it does rain there is more water available to fall, which results in larger floods.
18 A recent sophisticated analysis by Lott et al. (2013) has shown that the drought experienced in East Africa during the failure of the ‘long rains’ period of 2011 could not be explained by natural variability alone, and was probably exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change (Lott, F.C., Christidis, N. & Stott, P.A., 2013: ‘Can the 2011 East African drought be attributed to human-induced climate change?’, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 40, Issue 6, pages 1177-1181, 28th March 2013. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/grl.50235/abstract ).
19 A nod to Kim Peart.
20 Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, 2010: “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”; Bloomsbury Press, New York; see especially p.105, 134, 162.
21 Ross Garnaut, 2013: “Dog Days: Australia after the boom”; Redback, Victoria, p. 17-18.
22 In 2013 the United Nations General Assembly released its second “World Happiness Report” prepared by the Earth Institute at Columbia University ( http://issuu.com/earthinstitute/docs/world-happiness-report?e=4098028/2014244# ) which ranks the well-being of citizens in 156 countries, based on their gross domestic product per capita, citizen’s length of healthy life expectancy; whether citizens had someone to count on in times of trouble, perceptions of corruption, prevalence of generosity and freedom to make life choices. On this basis three of the top five happiest countries were Scandinavian, with Denmark ranked the world’s happiest country, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden following closely, and Finland in 7th place. Whilst Denmark’s top-ranking happiness can undoubtedly be partly explained by the fact that their Crown Princess and future Queen is a nice Tasmanian lass, more generally these top-ranking countries are highly-taxed and well-regulated societies which nevertheless also have strong traditions of personal freedom and democracy, making them societies which have arguably found a better combination of right- and left- wing (and other) values than notably less happy countries such as the USA. The latter, with its widespread right-wing obsession over economic freedom, individualistic self-reliance and suspicion of social welfare as a “communist plot”, is as a result the First World’s most economically unequal and so crime- and violence-ridden society (for more insights into the strangely dysfunctional and often paradoxical socio-economic nature of the USA, see Bageant, J., 2007: “Deer Hunting with Jesus – Dispatches from America’s class war”; Scribe Publications, Melbourne).